Frequently asked questions

Q: How do you know that Farm Wilder farmers are helping wildlife?

A: Farm Wilder works with the farmers, with input from our partner charities including RSPB, Butterfly Conservation and Wildlife Trusts, to monitor wildlife on the farms, and make recommendations to improve habitat for the rare species we are targeting. Each farm is inspected annually and receives a biodiversity action plan.

Q: You’re helping Cuckoos and Marsh Fritillary butterflies, but what about other farm wildlife?

A: Cuckoos and Marsh Fritillaries are both difficult species to look after, and need the most urgent help. They rely on habitats that are increasingly rare in Britain, but if these habitats are managed right, and cover a large enough area by joining them up, then you also look after all sorts of other rare species which live there too, including orchids, moths, bees and dragonflies. However, it's possible to have good habitat for rare species on one part of the farm whilst other more intensively managed areas have little wildlife. This is why our Farm Standards require farmers to make improvements across the whole farm – e.g. planting trees, better hedgerow management, increasing pasture diversity and introducing wider field margins.

Q: Shouldn’t we be just giving up meat completely?

A: Of course, giving up meat and dairy entirely is an approach taken for a wide range of reasons, but going vegan doesn’t suit everybody. Meat is a valuable source of protein and nutrients. Attaining these nutrients requires careful attention in a 100% vegan diet. In many parts of the world it’s difficult to grow much apart from grass (the west of Britain falls into this category), so it makes sense to use livestock to turn this grass into food that people can eat. But many wild plants and animals also rely on being grazed by ruminants, which have evolved in conjunction with the flora and fauna of the temperate world, first in the wild and then in their domesticated forms. The intensification of farming has meant this relationship has largely been lost, and as a result many of our most threatened species are grassland species. It’s vital to restoring Britain’s lost biodiversity that we maintain grazing on our few surviving wildflower meadows, extensively and within a mosaic of other habitats, and that we start to create new meadows on some degraded farmland.

​Q: Wouldn’t it be better to re-wild these upland areas instead?

A: Re-wilding can be a great way to create habitat for many species, and hopefully there will be opportunities for the re-wilding of more upland areas in the near future. But in an island as small as Britain, re-wilding isn’t a simple solution. For a start, communities, local culture and rural economies have evolved over the centuries with agriculture at their core, and this continues to be the case today. If that was to fall away, it is hard to overstate the impact that would have on these areas and their inhabitants. Even if farming was removed from the uplands, there is no guarantee that natural succession would lead to increased diversity – where livestock has been removed or greatly reduced on Dartmoor, dominant species like European gorse, molinia and bracken have largely taken over, dramatically reducing bird populations. If re-wildling is to work in the uplands, it needs careful management and monitoring, and the consent of local communities. In the meantime, we need wildlife friendly farming to allow endangered species to recover while supporting the rural economies and culture.

Q: How does Farm Wilder meat help reduce greenhouse gas emissions?​​

​A: Ruminants emit methane as they digest their food, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. There’s no getting around that, and the way we produce beef and lamb needs to change if we are to combat climate change. But beef and lamb farming can be as much a part of the solution as the problem, depending on how it is managed. Soil holds vast amounts of carbon – indeed there is far more carbon in the world’s soils than there is in atmosphere. This carbon is in the form of organic matter, deposited there by plant roots and decayed plant matter, and it has huge benefits not just for the climate but also for soil fertility and biodiversity. But carbon oxidises when exposed to air, meaning that these carbon reserves have been massively depleted over the years through cultivation, which most farmers now practice on grassland as well as arable land. Yet this can also work in reverse – where animals graze, especially in rotational systems on diverse, uncultivated pastures, these carbon reserves can be quickly restored, and a number of peer reviewed studies show that this carbon sequestration can outweigh the emissions from the grazing livestock, making beef and lamb carbon negative. To try and achieve this, Farm Wilder is working with the Pasture for Life (PfL) certification scheme, and our farmers have committed to moving to this 100% pasture-fed system over 3 years. In coordination with PfL, we request that wherever possible farmers don’t plough, but instead over sow pastures with deep rooting grasses, herbs and legumes which quickly increase organic matter right down through the soil strata. Herbs and legumes such as chicory and birds foot trefoil contain condensed tannins, which means they also reduce methane emissions from the livestock. And legumes can eliminate the need for artificial fertiliser, which itself has a high CO2 footprint. Trees are also a crucial carbon stores, which is another reason we are asking farmers to plant more trees and increase the size of their hedgerows.

​Q: Why isn’t Farm Wilder meat organic?

A: Organic food is generally much better for our environment than conventionally produced food. However organic standards don't guarantee habitat for wildlife – although they remove the use of pesticides and fertilisers, which can degrade and destroy habitats, they don't require farmers to manage, restore and create the specific habitats that much wildlife demands. Organic also allows for up to 40% of an animal’s diet to be from grain, and we believe that growing grain to feed livestock is an unsustainable use of land in a world competing for resources. The upland livestock farms that have the most biodiversity generally aren’t organic, even though they rarely if ever use pesticides, and their fertiliser use is low or non-existent. It’s hard for these farms to convert to organic because they are mostly small family run farms that struggle to pay the organic membership fees, and don’t have good access to markets for organic meat. We feel that the first step for these farms to become more sustainable is to convert to being 100% pasture-fed through the Pasture for Life scheme, with additional requirements specific to enhancing wildlife habitats. Not only will this help free up land from grain and soya production, it also means that farmers need to maintain or introduce herbs and legumes into their pastures in order to get the right nutritional balance for their animals. This in turn can eliminate the need for fertiliser and herbicides, as well as medication and mineral supplements. In short, it is the traditional model, where nature and farming work together in mutual reliance. And it is one that many farmers are keen to go back to. They just need a market that pays a fair price.

​Q: Is Farm Wilder meat expensive?

A: Farm Wilder is a non-profit organisation, which helps keep prices down, and our meat is generally cheaper than organic meat. But it is more expensive than meat you would buy in a supermarket, because cheap meat comes with a high environmental cost. It comes down to a choice – we can keep buying cheap industrially produced meat, which kills wildlife and causes many environmental problems, or we can eat less meat, and when we do be prepared to pay a little more for higher quality, healthier, tastier meat, knowing that we are helping wildlife and encouraging farmers to farm more sustainably.

Q: Where and How does Slaughtering Take Place?

We work with a small family-run abattoir in Devon, which is less than 45 minutes drive from all our farms. We believe it is important to support local abattoirs like ours as it minimises stress to the animals, is more sustainable and helps the rural economy. The larger industrial scale abattoirs that supply supermarkets often require animals to be trucked hundreds of miles across the country, and they make it difficult for farmers to process small numbers of animals. Animals are stunned before slaughter, which is according to the conventional non-religious method. The abattoir is Soil Association approved, it is equipped with CCTV, has a full time vet and meat inspector, and is audited annually by the Food Standards Agency.